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The artwork of Gustav Klimt

By Eleanor Stern
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The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
The work of Gustav Klimt is an outstanding example of Symbolic Art
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Gustav Klimt was a promient Austrian painter and one of the foremost members of what was called the Vienna Art Nouveau movement. He was known as a symbolist painter, which means that he painted with an intention of conveying far deeper meaning that that which the objects alone would suggest. In the symbolism movement, subjects were choosen for the concepts they represented, rather than as concrete objects. His lifetime work includes paintings, murals, sketches and other art objects.

Klimt's Symbolism

Each artist has an inspiration that drives them. Gustav Klimt was driven by the female form - more specifically the femme fatale. Many of Klimt's paintings are symbolic of the qualities of the femme fatale. Like the femme fatale herself, Klimt's paintings are beautifully intriguing, easy on the eyes yet rich with depth.


Klimt was raised in poverty near Vienna, Austria. He was the second of seven children: three boys and four girls. Klimt's father was an Austrian Gold engraver who made just enough to get by. At the age of 14, Ernst Klimt sent his son to art school where young Gustav got his start painting murals on the side of buildings.

His work

Gustav Klimt's took many of his style markings such as the gold tinting in his paintings and the female body poses from the Egyptian and Minoan society. This is very apparent in one of his first works on the Beethoven Frieze. The women in the painting have tilted heads almost as if their necks were snapped. This parallels to Egyptian painting styles where the women have their heads tilted and show their entire face. Klimt also utilizes the Egyptian technique of stylizing hair, clothing and faces.

With the Vienna secession movement occurring in 1897, Klimt emerged as the prominent leader of this movement. He was the president of this group, consisting of 19 artists. These artists developed a style called Art Nouvea which is French for new art. Art Nouvea is defined as an international style of art, architecture and design. It is recognized by highly stylized curvy fluid designs. As this movement began to grow so did Klimt's artistic production and following

At the height of this movement Klimt produced his most famous works of art which included: The Kiss, Danae, Adele Bloche-Bauer, and Judith and the Head of Holofernes.

Perhaps The Kiss is the most famous of all of his works. This painting shows two lovers in embrace.The lovers are surrounded by a sea of gold and rest of a bed of flowers. They create a phallic shape which is also a reoccurring symbol in Gustav Klimt's work.

Although he was drawn by the femme fatale, he still felt the need to embody her in a phallic shape. Klimt also made shapes and colors very important in his pieces. The man is clothed in a robe covered with different colored squares. They are black. The woman is covered in circles with different bright colored stylized flowers inside of them. The positioning of the lover's is interesting as in this painting the female looks submissive. Maybe it is a deception hinted at by the bright glowing gold around the woman suggesting the man is being drawn towards her.

Danae, with her emblazoned red hair is another of Klimt's maidens. She has her eyes shut and is in a fetal position. Surrounding her is light, and outside this light is a black and gold mesh curtain. Danae has a strikingly disproportionate thigh. Klimt could have done this to balance out the black mesh curtain, and draw the eye in towards Danae's face.

Adele Bloche- Bauer exaggerates the signature images of a Klimt painting. Adele is covered in gold from head to toe. Not only is her dress gold but the surrounding background is gold. Her gown spills over the end of the canvas, as it carries on in the imagination. Adele's dress is a mass of shapes and colors. Again the femme fatale appears with her face emphasized with pale china skin, red lips and raven hair. Around her head is a square filled with stylized designs. Again perhaps Klimt does this so the painting is not bottom heavy.

The most domineering of all Gustav Klimt's women is Judith and the Head of Holeferenes. She stares directly out at viewer, where all the rest of the girls look sideways. With her head tilted slightly up in a cocky gesture, she challenges the viewer. She wears an elaborately gilded golden body piece with a thick golden choker around her neck. She is also topless like many of Klimt's subjects which give a sense of rawness. If you look closely, her hand is holding onto what appears to be a man's head in the right bottom corner of the painting. This symbolizes her complete power over him.

In all his paintings it is not the classic demure beauty that Gustav Klimt shows. He rather depicts a more powerful woman who at first glance may appear to be a beauty at rest but a lioness when stirred.

This says something about Klimt's taste in women, not only about his artistic tastes. In fact he was never married but spent his life with one primary female companion Emile Floge, while romancing other women.

Although we can never know for sure, one has to wonder if she, or perhaps one of his other lovers was the inspiration for his domineering femme fatale.

The image in this article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Gustav Klimt

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